Smart Buildings: Too Many Ingredients, Too Few Bakers. Are SIs the Key? Can Construction Do More?

Posted by Buddy on February 10, 2021

 

Smart Building technologies (The “Ingredients”) are coming to the market at a phenomenal rate, yet smart

buildings delivery lags far behind. Two of the reasons this occurs are;

  • Too few companies to Integrate Systems…No bakers to knead the ingredients
  • Construction industry failing to deliver smart ready infrastructure


There are a lot of companies making ingredients for smart buildings, often multi-layer and offering a complete

solution for one segment of the smart building with sensor technology, network infrastructure and cloud based

app.. And to their credit, the smart building segments are often rich with open protocols but often the focus is

getting their own cloud interface and recurring revenue, and to avoid bespoke integrations with other systems

or apps. 

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This leave clients with a prohibitive problem; many disjointed systems…piles of ingredients..….How to Make

the Cake…Where are the Bakers?


This is where Building Management Systems (BMS) System Integrators (SI) need to step up. If we contrast

with the emergence of BMS (also known as Building Energy Management Systems or Building Automation

Systems) in the 1980s/90s, lots of manufacturing companies made the ingredients: Valves, Actuators,

Sensors, Stats, Transmitters, Switchgears etc, while the SIs made the cake. Fast forward to present day

and SIs are still in prime position to play the pivotal role in smart buildings; having existing unique skill sets

in Electrical, Mechanical, HVAC, Integration, Visualisation, Commissioning, Training, Service and

Maintenance. But, now more than ever there is a need for  SIs to step up their game… they must Expand

their Skills: Smart Lighting, Wireless Technology, Networking, Webservices Technologies, Cyber Security,

and App Development. 


Now this may require SIs to disrupt the market a bit, inform (and sometimes butt heads) with other contract

parties, expand their supply lines, and do more R&D.  It’s what the market needs and wants.


In most situations it may be a speculative build, or the client may not know what they want yet. So, how can

construction help provide smart builds in this situation? Sticking with our baking analogy; is it time for the

“Sponge Base Build”?: ready to absorb and release data and commands from future client smart building apps.

 

It can be difficult to drive change, overcome fear, naysayers or misunderstanding. We recently had a prolonged

battle with an electrical contractor that was trying to resist a smart building installation as he would have to run

and terminate Cat6 Cabling for our edge controller installation compared to installing a legacy RS485 network

installation. All the smart building features (Bluetooth Access, Unified Room Control, McCools Room App, Wi-Fi

Connectivity, Visualisations, API Integrations) were almost lost on this argument! But we persevered and

prevailed through educating the decision makers.

 

 

Construction

In general, the construction industry needs to change the approach and put Smart Technology on an even

par with all other services. Where there’s a dedicated occupant/client for the building, bring them into the

discussions on smart building tech from an early stage. Every room datasheet should have a smart building

section and the implementation and commissioning of the features should be worked into the project program.

 

In most situations it may be a speculative build, or the client may not know what they want yet. So, how can

construction help provide smart builds in this situation? Sticking with our baking analogy; is it time for the

Sponge Base Build”?: ready to absorb and release data and commands from future client smart building apps.

 

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Theses smart ready Sponge Base Builds would be built with all logical operational technology integrations

complete; for instance, it’s all too common to have rooms with HVAC terminal units not controlled on

occupancy, yet lighting in the same room is. All services in the room all too often have separate infrastructure;

Temperature Sensor, Light Switches, Blinds Switches, Window Openers etc.


In the Sponge Base Build, all these OT integrations would be done with the integrated control system,

and every system and/or plant item would be provided with open API (Application Programming interface)

for future enterprise smart building applications by the client. Bluetooth, or other wireless protocol, access

to OT would be readily available. Construction teams can work with their SI to choose the ingredients to

make digital grids encompassing the entire building and surrounding environs (car parking etc.) all working

in unison and like a sponge are pliable, ready to absorb commands and release the data. And like any element

of the project, it must be assigned resources, tracked and worked into program with adequate time allotted; the

cake needs time to bake if going to be ready for the handover party!


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These smart buildings save clients a lot of time and money, and help their staff work productively, happily,

and safely, including as integral part of Virus Mitigation Planning.


From our experience in McCool Controls, since we have expanded our smart building offerings to meet more

of the building’s needs (BMS /Smart Lighting /High Precision RTLS /Apps /Bluetooth /LoRaWAN /Smart

Metering /Indoor Mapping /Wayfinding ), we are seeing a massive surge in demand. Migration to smart

building is well underway, it is time for SIs to get on their Toque Blanche or the industry will fill find another

way to fill the smart building vacuum.  

 

Blog By:

Eóin McCool

COO 

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